California Gender Discrimination Lawyers
Gender Discrimination in the Workplace
Gender inequality is real and prevalent at every level of society. Statistically, working women earn 82 percent of what working men do, meaning that the average woman has to work an additional 47 days per year to catch up to her male counterparts earnings-wise. Unfortunately, this gap has remained relatively steady for the past 15 years, despite supposed changing attitudes in the workplace and an overall increase in women’s graduation rates and education levels. Women earn lower salaries, receive fewer promotions, and experience less satisfaction in the workplace.
However, there is a difference between gender inequality and gender discrimination. While gender inequality is widespread and based on statistics and averages, often driven by hidden biases, gender discrimination is specific, particular, and intentional. Under California law, discrimination on the basis of “sex, gender, gender identity, [or] gender expression” is illegal.
Signs of Gender Discrimination
The subtlety of gender discrimination can make it extremely pernicious. Most employers won’t say outright that the reason you didn’t get a job or a promotion is due to gender. Employees are forced to look for less overt signs and signals, and interpret unspoken cues. Here are a few to look for if you suspect gender discrimination:
- Pay inequality. If you discover that you earn less money than other-gendered coworkers with similar roles, credentials, and experience, you may suffer from gender discrimination. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) expressly precludes discriminating in compensation on the basis of gender.
- Biased job interview questions. Employers should not ask these questions during an initial job interview, or when you apply for a raise or promotion, but it still happens. An employer cannot ask about your marital status, parental status, or your intention to have children. The only relevant information is whether you are willing and able to work the hours required, travel or work overtime if necessary, and complete work on schedule.
- Glass ceiling. If you notice that your employer seems to consistently hire only women for administrative roles, say, or to promote candidates of one gender over candidates of a different gender, your workplace may have a glass ceiling. If you observe that, for example, leadership roles are frequently filled by men recruited externally instead of qualified women who already work at the company, or if men and women who start at the company at the same time do not progress equally in salary or responsibility, gender discrimination may infest your workplace.
- Performance evaluations. Performance evaluations often express gender bias and discrimination. Unfortunately, performance evaluations, which ought to provide an opportunity for actionable, constructive feedback, are often a time when gender bias creeps in and hurts not just performance and morale, but salary and opportunity within the organization. If your performance evaluations focus more on your personality and behavior critiques than on job performance, your employer may conduct discriminatory reviews.
What to Do if You Suspect Gender Discrimination
Because gender discrimination is often so intangible and indirect, it’s difficult to know if it’s happening at all, let alone what to do about it. And remember that, while women are most frequently the victims of gender bias and gender discrimination, men can also experience workplace gender discrimination. If you suspect that you are a victim of gender discrimination:
- Contact an experienced attorney. In the initial explorations of a potential workplace gender discrimination case, talking with an experienced workplace discrimination attorney can prove valuable. An attorney can help evaluate evidence of discrimination and provide guidance about steps you might take to address it. Often, the sooner you meet with an attorney, the better, not only because a lawyer can help clarify your perceptions and help you figure out whether your concerns are justified, but also because an attorney can help come up with a plan for gathering additional evidence and taking action. Your attorney may, for example, advise you to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and if so, when and how to do so to protect your rights.
- Gather documentation. If you have written performance evaluations, pay slips, emails, or text messages that may indicate bias, gather them up and keep them safe from deletion. If you underwent experiences that indicate bias, but lack written documentation, consider writing it down in a notebook or your personal (not work-issued) device. For example, you could note the time and day of a questionable interaction with a boss or coworker, and what was said. If you had conversations with other employees that indicate they may also have experienced bias, keep records of those well. Oftentimes, the more documentation you have, the easier your attorney can evaluate and understand what is really going on. Finally, store copies of these records away from your workplace for safekeeping.
What to Expect in a Gender Discrimination Lawsuit
Not all cases of gender discrimination result in lawsuits. An experienced attorney can advise you as to your best path forward. Gender discrimination lawsuits can present even experienced attorneys with many difficulties and leave damaging effects on your career.
The (in)famous case of Ellen Pao, for example, shows that these cases may involve months and years of excruciating examination of a person’s work and personal lives, and may not always prove successful. However, despite the difficulty, many people, after consulting with experienced legal counsel, decide to pursue their cases anyway, motivated by a desire to change their employer’s practices, achieve justice, and win compensation. Even when unsuccessful, the far-reaching impact of these cases does often force employers to reexamine their internal processes and create policies that protect employees from gender discrimination.
Even if employers are cynically motivated by a desire to avoid lawsuits, the outcome can make workplaces as a whole more inclusive, progressive, and less discriminatory. Even if your case is unsuccessful, as was Ellen Pao’s, yours may inspire other people to come forward and share their experiences, and may have a lasting effect on the culture and practices of employers everywhere.
However you choose to proceed in the case of suspected gender discrimination, an experienced attorney can support and advise you, and ensure that you are aware of your rights and the potential outcomes of defending them. Gender discrimination hurts all of us, and we must cultivate a greater awareness of these practices and their negative effects, not just on salaries and leadership roles, but on personal satisfaction, confidence, and self-esteem. We all deserve to work in fair and bias-free environments, even if we have to pursue that goal one employer at a time.